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The Dorian Mode

As we have learnt in previous articles the Dorian Mode is one of the modes based on the Major (Ionian) Scale. Dorian is built from the 2nd note of the Major Scale. Each mode has a certain flavour, colour or shade.

We can order the modes in order of ‘bright’ to ‘dark’ as follows:


From this graphic you can see the Dorian is directly in the middle of the list. This position tends to make it the most neutral coloured sounding mode, a mid-point between light and dark. I always think of Pictures Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde!

It is made up of the following notes in relation to the corresponding Major Scale:


So C Dorian would be made up of the following notes:


Interestingly this is the only mode based on the Major Scale whose series of intervals are the same forward and backwards. This is very interesting, when the melody is played ‘upside down’ the interval structure remains the same! A musical palindrome!

Dorian is one of the ‘minor’ modes and differs from the more commonly known Natural Minor (Aeolian) Scale in that it has a Major 6th, which makes it lighter sounding. This is the most important note when playing a melody in Dorian, it is the note that gives it its distinctive sound. Dorian is used in most styles of music, particularly folk, pop and jazz.

The Dorian Scale will work well over any minor chord and can make a nice change from a normal Minor Pentatonic or Natural Minor melody, emphasize the 6th to get the sound!

The chords that are built on the notes of Dorian always follow the same pattern (if you remember the Major Scale chord sequence, just start from the 2nd and loop!):


When analysing a chord sequence the position of the 7th chord can help a lot. A Dorian sequence will (generally, not always) start with a Minor chord (or m7) with the root note of the key! The 7th chord appears on the 4th scale degree, and as there is only one (dominant) 7th chord this is a sure-fire way to recognise a Dorian progression (provided they’ve used extended chords of course!).

Try playing some Dorian chord progressions to get the feel for yourself:


Try these out and most importantly, have fun!!


-Duncan Richardson - MU Columnist


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